Author Archives: Saurabh Shukla

Retiring from organising the WordPress community in Pune

After 7 months of deliberation and vacillation, last night I removed myself as administrator of various social media presences of Pune WordPress community and as a co-organiser on after handing over all such privileges to other organisers. I will have no active part or say in the activities of the Pune WordPress community henceforth.

While someone may tell you that I did this in a fit of anger, I’m writing this post so that things are public and there’s no scope for rumours and such.

This year has been tough for me personally and professionally. I have also struggled with my mental health a lot this year. That’s why I decided to take a backseat as far as active participation in the community was concerned. My finances haven’t been very good, so I couldn’t participate in any WordCamp in India this year.

I have been very fortunate in making very good sensible friends throughout the global WordPress community. Before that, I have been very fortunate in life and have made really great sensible friends. I have a lot of respect for them and frequently take their counsel and help.

I’m deeply satisfied with the kind of work I have been able to do in the Indian and global WordPress community to bring about real and valuable change. It was a successful run.

I have been very invested emotionally and personally in this community. So, when I see something happening that goes against the nature or ideals of the ecosystem or is not in the best interests of it, I’m pretty quick to criticise it or bring it to to people’s attention and I mostly do it privately.

In the last 2 years or so, every time I have tried to criticise an idea or a plan, instead of a discussion on the pros and cons of the idea, for some reason, the person behind the idea would take it as an attack on their character and such. Going a step further, they would retaliate with personal attacks, especially on unrelated stuff. It’s extremely petty and works fine if you are a little schoolboy or schoolgirl, not when you’re 30+ and leaders in your own right.

In the last 2 odd years, I have been patiently working with such folks, pointing out that a criticism of an idea is not the same as the criticism of the person. However, it hasn’t led to any long-term or personal change. I’m honestly tired of doing this over and over again. It hurts me and makes me angry every single time, both things that I can do without at this stage of my life.

So, this post is to let you know that I’m done with being a part of the Pune WordPress community’s organising team. More importantly, I’m distancing myself from any future activities, ideas or plans for meetups in the group or any future WordCamps in Pune. I have nothing to do with any of them.

I’ll continue attending meetups as a member and even speak if the need arises.

This doesn’t mean that I’ll stop contributing to the community completely. I continue contributing in my own ways and will continue organising community activities privately and in association with meetup groups across India.

Bhopal Junction

WordCamp Bhopal 2016 and an enquiry into inclusiveness

Brace yourself. This is a really long post but I have left a lot of things out and this is the story of 36 hours. My first draft was twice as long! 😉 However, you won’t be disappointed. I feel I have an interesting experience to share.

A cynic prepares for WordCamp Bhopal

In all honesty, my expectations and understanding of WordCamp Bhopal was clouded by a past WordCamp organised by students a couple of years ago. Adding to it, the organisers were WordPress and community noobs and often bungled things that we have come to expect as basic by community standards.

Added to that, lately, I have been spending a lot of time on the concept of WordCamp Glamour. Of course, associating with WordCamps is glamorous in the community and is beneficial for business. However, that attracts a lot of fame-seekers who have absolutely no interest in the stated or intended aims of a WordCamp. That’s the subject of a different blog post, however.

Yes, I’m cynical and I did question their intentions. Even then, I always doubt my cynicism even if, as a second thought. 😉 Keeping that in mind, I offered the organisers any help they needed with the event, except for sponsorships (Yapapaya is a new agency with not-so-deep pockets). In the same spirit, I applied as a speaker and decided to speak on “Contribution Oriented Development”. My application was accepted.

Clueless and bored in Bhopal

There were other factors, like how I can’t remember a lot of things thanks to my depression and how we’re having excitingly busy times at our month old agency, Yapapaya but in this case, I would say it was pure laziness and I didn’t make my travel arrangements till a couple of days before the WordCamp.

What happened because of that is that I landed at Bhopal junction at 02:30 am with no arrangements or plans. (I found out later that this gave me the freedom and the opportunity to have the experience that I ended up having.) I thought I’d stay in the waiting room available on the station. I’m a metro city dweller and expected it to be a dead place with sleepy dogs everywhere.

However, I’m addicted to nicotine and smoking is banned on trains. After a 16 hour long nicotine free journey, I needed my fix. So, I stepped out of the station and found it wide awake and buzzing with activity.

However, after a smoke or two and 4-5 cups of tea, I started getting bored. Also, I had no idea who I had to meet or contact in the morning and how early could I do that. I chatted with Aditya and Alex to while away some time but they were preparing to leave for the airport. So, I posted all my queries to a Facebook chat that had all the speakers and organisers as participants.

Fortunately, one of the organisers, Gourav was awake and responded.

From then on, boy! was I glad I was wrong about these guys! 🙂

Making friends, changing perceptions

I got into an Uber and went to Gourav’s “room”. A room is an interesting concept in India. It is just a room in a larger house that is sub-let like a hostel. When I first moved to Pune to join rtCamp, I lived in such a room. In fact, I met Ganesh, Yapapaya’s CEO because he used to live in such a room bang opposite mine with Joshua (currently, an engineer with 10up who has no social profiles to link to) who is a common friend.

Gourav was a little apprehensive about hosting a “speaker” in such a room. There, I found Tanay fast asleep after a tiring day of preparations but Gourav is not human and doesn’t sleep! Once he saw I was super comfortable and he had nothing to worry about, we ended up chatting about the event and his role. I shared my concerns and cleared all my misconceptions. He showed me Tanay’s design work and went on telling me great things about every organiser and volunteer. Gourav struck me as an interesting and hardworking person. If any WordPress agency owners are reading this, keep an eye on him, you might want to hire him as soon as he’s out of college!

Early in the morning, Tanay woke up and we spoke about the role of designers in the WordPress ecosystem. I introduced him to open source design and of course, Wapuu. He found it interesting that my CEO is a designer. That’s usually not the case! Animesh (another volunteer) arrived in his car, we got chatting even more and I learnt a lot of things.

Bhopal community, a background

What I learnt was that Bhopal has about 110 engineering colleges. Only four of them have any arrangements for Campus Placements. Of these, only the venue sponsor, that is, Laxmi Narayan College of Technology manages to have the best and a healthy placement record.

I learnt that their placement officer, Anuj Garg foresaw the benefit of engaging with open source communities for the students’ future and helped them in promoting the event, the logistics and making sure the event was smooth. He even arranged the college’s guesthouse for the speakers, at no extra cost. We all had reached early in the morning and needed a place to freshen up, shower, etc and a hotel seemed unreasonable. The college also provided buses to pick up participants from the station and elsewhere.

“Very thoughtful”, I thought to myself and made a mental note to make sure I met him. Unfortunately, I couldn’t. So, professor, if you’re reading this, thanks a lot! I’m sure we will visit Bhopal again and hopefully help out with a couple of workshops, training and organising meetups. I hope we’re able to discuss this in detail, someday. Especially since you’ve organised a damn dedicated space for the local meetup group! Such dedication and investment in your students’ future is commendable and I think I speak on behalf of the Global WordPress Community, we’ll help to make sure it bears fruits!

I also learnt that the only concept the students had of IT jobs were that of two year bonds, formal dress codes and measly salaries for a machine like existence (a recent essay on HeroPress gives more insight into this). Although I did give them an idea of what the WordPress ecosystem was like, I quickly realised that we (the speakers and other community members) had an important task today.

We were going to be the ambassadors of WordPress to the student community in Bhopal.

I also realised that most of the sessions lined up for the day (including mine) would be useless for an audience that largely consisted of people who had no idea what WordPress was and won’t make sense. What we needed to do was introduce these guys to the opportunities that WordPress could provide and the awesomeness of the ecosystem.

Animesh and I set out for the venue, picking up Aditya, the lead organiser on the way. I proposed that if we have time, we can have a panel discussion and QnA on Career Opportunities in WordPress. I even offered to replace my session with it. They quickly agreed to the former.

I couldn’t change my slides or make my topic accessible to these students. That kept hounding me as the day progressed. I hate doing that to myself and the audience, speak about something just because I have it prepared without bothering about whether my audience is interested or can participate. That’s one of the reasons I’m against single track events and find multi-track events to be fairer to both speakers and their own set of interested audience. Otherwise, all of us are just wasting a lot of people’s time. This criticism isn’t valid an hour before the session is about to start, anyway.

However, that’s what I feel and even though I felt the same about the majority of the sessions, it would be unfair for me to talk on these lines at such a short notice, so I didn’t speak to the other speakers about it. However, like I have mentioned, we arranged a panel with Nirav, Rahul and Amit, all three CEOs and speakers at the event.

I did share my findings about Bhopal’s student community with everyone else and I’m sure many of us see this as a future recruitment opportunity.

Aditya and I have also been discussing a type of event that’s relevant to such contexts. For the sake of conversation, we’re calling it a Student Edition WordCamp. It doesn’t need to be a WordCamp, it could be called something else, but it’d be awesome if the WordPress Foundation could back it, instead of private groups or companies.

It could be used to kickstart a meetup group and a community and would be targeted at people who are either newbies or beginners at WordPress. In just one or two years, it could transition into a full-fledged WordCamp or could co-exist with a regular WordCamp, as well. This would be super useful in India, especially in educational hubs. Then again, that’s a separate discussion, altogether. I digress!

The event and the struggle to start

This story I won’t go into much. In short, the projector failed, Vachan pulled out a portable projector out of his magic hat and after a long delay, things got back into track.

Before things got sorted, the organisers started panicking and worrying a little but they didn’t know how the community works. Soon, the “mighty esteemed respectable speakers” were sitting cross legged on the floor, trying to troubleshoot the problem and getting Vachan’s projector installed, at the same time.

Even Rahul, who can’t be seen in the picture and who was a gold sponsor and holds the distinction of leading the only WordPress VIP agency in the whole of Asia, was there, on the floor, helping figure things out.

Many organisers told me later that it was unprecedented. Guests, especially “VIP” guests don’t behave like they are the organisers themselves. Sponsors too, don’t take such glitches in their stride, forget trying to help with them!

Well, if only the members of the community considered themselves guests. 😉

While this was going on, the audience was getting restless and the emcees were a little lost. Alex came to the rescue but after a while naturally started talking about WordPress. I jumped in because the first speaker was supposed to do that and Alex could have inadvertently rendered his talk moot! We then had a little interaction with the audience where we tried to contrast the friendly informal nature of WordCamps with regular conferences.

Just before that, we discussed with the organisers and because things were getting really late, we suggested that the organisers ask the speakers to try and shorten their talks by 5-10 minutes, each. I again offered to cancel my talk because that made complete sense, given the scenario. However, I was still thinking at the back of my mind if I could tweak it so that it makes sense to this audience.

We here and later indicates Aditya Kane, Alex, Aditya Shah (the lead organiser) and other organisers and volunteers including the ones I have mentioned before.

We also decided that if it takes longer, we’ll have the panel discussion first. We even announced it and started to introduce it but viola, by now the projector was on and we could get started with the schedule.

I missed most of the sessions, needed to conserve my energy and needed to think about my presentations. Of course, I also needed frequent smoke breaks!

Career Opportunities with WordPress

Since both breakfast and lunch had been delayed, we decided to tweak the schedule and have the panel discussion immediately after lunch. The discussion was great, interactive and piqued the interest of the audience. The panelists were awesome with their answers and the audience enthralled by the peek into a possible career with WordPress.

To a question about dress codes and formalities, Rahul just pointed out to his attire and asked, “What do you think?” to a roar of laughter and an applause of approval. That’s when I felt deeply satisfied! See Rahul’s attire for yourself:

From what I observed, and was confirmed by the organisers, WordCamp Bhopal was a pleasant culture shock for all of them and the WordPress community gained some more fans that day.

Young, curious and energetic

The side-effect of all this and some interesting sessions in between was that the audience was engaged, willing to listen and super curious. All the speakers were quickly surrounded by young energetic students who had an endless flow of questions.

We speakers aren’t that old, many of us are just in our mid-thirties but keeping up with the students’ energy was exhausting; I had lost my voice by the end of the day! I could see the exhaustion on each speaker but they never turned a single person away, patiently answering questions and explaining things.

The most common question that I kept getting asked was,

WordPress looks exciting, I’m interested, how do I start?

After trying to answer it a couple of times, I quickly contacted the organisers and changed my topic to answer that question. I wasn’t prepared, I had no slides but I managed to pull a couple of slides from my existing presentation. My session was the last one and I was exhausted, the audience was exhausted. We (the audience and I) still managed an interesting, interactive session that’ll hopefully get the participants a step closer to WordPress. 🙂

So, yeah, I have no slides to share and my session didn’t have much structure but now, I don’t have to think of a fresh topic for WordCamp Udaipur. I’m going to send in the one I had prepared for WCBhopal!

Puneet, if you’re reading this, my applications, my slides and my content are ready more than 3 months before your WordCamp! Enough reason to select me, don’t you think? 😉

The WordCamp was over, but not the questions. We kept on till some more time and then went to see the special office space for the Bhopal WordPress community that I have already spoken about.

Divine intervention, any one?

The story should end with the speakers’ dinner but it doesn’t. I knew that the famous stupas of Sanchi were just 50 odd kms away. I had already come thousands of kilometers and couldn’t let go of the opportunity to visit them. I had made no plans or arrangements for my return journey yet.

Gourav insisted I stay with him because he’s not going to sleep and had some work to do. I’d be good company. After a little round of polite negotiations, I agreed. Back into his room, we continued our conversation around WordPress. Both of us were tired but not sleepy. The conversation moved to Samaanta, an event for the differently abled that Gourav co-ordinates. This was the second year and he had to come up with some ideas.

I spoke to him about accessibility and technology, especially WordPress. I told him about Raghav and suggested contacting Alex who’s deeply interested in such endeavours and I told him about Topher and HeroPress. Finally, after 36 hours of continuous excitement, I passed out.

Now imagine my surprise when I see a tweet addressing Gourav from Topher about Samaanta in the morning!

I felt a surge of emotion for Topher who’s on the other side of the world, having the exact same ideas. I’m not sure if most people would get it, but at times you experience the divine. This was one of those moments.

Finally, I headed to Sanchi, my legs and my voice sore from the previous day. Won’t say anything about it, see for yourself:

Here’s the album:

Inclusion and a little idea

Finally, after another 16 hours of a bus journey, where I couldn’t sleep properly, partly because my co-passenger snored heavily but mostly out of excitement, wonder and rumination, I reached home. Within an hour or two, I had an idea. I quickly consulted Ganesh and Aditya, my co-founders, called Gourav to check if it was okay with them and finally, asked Harshad Mane, the lead organiser of WordCamp Nashik for his help and announced the idea.

This is the second WordCamp, after WordCamp Pune 2015 that opened my eyes further, transformed me as a person and lent me such deep satisfaction. I was once trialling with WordCamp Central, where I was told how polished, sophisticated conferences don’t work for the community in the long run. What works is inclusive events where everyone gets to contribute in their own small ways.

I get that on an experiential level now. I think I have better ideas for the next WordCamp Pune and some more concepts on inclusiveness that I’d elaborate upon as the days pass and the thoughts get clearer. Until then, I’m looking forward to WordCamp Nashik which is about 2 weeks away.

I’m speaking there and all the founders of Yapapaya are also going to be there. Feel free to approach us. We love talking about WordPress and the community!

jerk scan screenshot

A Jerk Scan for Healthy Professional Relationships

Difference of Opinion

Look left, Look right signs painted on the road

The world is in a great political and moral churning. Our traditional values have broken down but many of us want to cling to it and often violently defend traditions even in the face of evidence. It was always like that but the internet has hastened this process. There’s Leave vs Remain, Trump vs Hillary, Hillary vs Bernie and closer home there are bhakts vs tards.

I’m a huge supporter of freedom to choose sides, I like agreeing to disagree. So, I don’t believe that if your worldview is towards the right, you can’t work with someone more leftist. So, even though, personally, I’m as liberal as you can get, I don’t let that affect my relationship decisions, whether it is a personal relationship or professional. So, if I’m hiring, I’m not going to reject people because they support some right-wing propaganda. Same way, I won’t refuse to work with a client because their cultural and political views don’t match mine.

Jerks are Bad for Business

Darth Vader

However, I don’t want to work with jerks, whatever their religious, social or political views may be. Practically, jerks are bad for business: Many of us do things, at least some times, which are characteristic a-hole behavioiur. However generally, I think of myself as a genuinely nice person and I’m not carrying around a chip on my shoulder.

People with a chip on their shoulder can be extremely focused, aggressive and ambitious. It can be easily mistaken for energy, decision making skills and a no-nonsense, go-getter attitude. However, now that I’m old enough to experience time in longer parts, I see how working with jerks just wastes years of productive time and energy and creates general negativity that takes years to clean.

A Handy Jerk Scan

A measuring device that plots waves on ECG like paper

I devised a simple spreadsheet that you can use in this age of social media to scan potential employers’ (boss’s) and employees’ profiles for information that lets you decide if the amount of a-hole that a person has is okay with you.

I only look at the last 9 months since data before that is cumbersome to get to. In any case, even one incident in the last three months is enough to sound an alarm. Depending on how important it is to you, you can go back, as far as you want. I believe people change and a lot of times for the better, so there’s no sense digging into their past.

Forked from Citizen Code of Conduct (, it contains a list of incidents to look for. Just like the source, you’d need to account for advocating and encouraging such behaviour, even if the person directly does not engage in such activities.

If an employer that you plan to work with or an employee that you plan to hire tests positive on a jerk scan, I’d suggest passing the opportunity over. However, please use it judiciously and with full awareness of each incident that you record and remember that everyone deserves the benefit of doubt. 

Also, your tolerance levels for each parameter, especially Inappropriateness may be very high, in which case you may choose to ignore some incidents. Here’s the google spreadsheet:

Let me know what you think of it. Do you have similar jerk scans or processes that help weed out jerks? Let me know in the comments.

Acing a technical talk: Writing a Session Profile for Successful Presentations

applause-431234_640What makes a presentation successful?

In the last post, we discussed the purpose of a presentation and I suggested that it involves inspiring people in the audience to do something because of the presentation. When this is achieved, we can say it was a successful presentation.

Before they actually do that, they have to learn how to do that. Before that, they need to be convinced to learn it. In earlier posts, we discussed the five stages of the learning process:

  1. Selection
  2. Linking
  3. Organisation
  4. Assimilation
  5. Reinforcement

That’s why as speakers, we follow these steps to make sure that our presentations are effective and successful:

  1. Make sure that the audience is convinced that the information is worth learning. (Selection)
  2. Make sure that the audience is able to process and digest the information presented. (Linking, Organisation)
  3. Present the information and make sure that the audience is able to retain the information. (Assimilation)
  4. Make sure that the audience is able to practice and use the information. (Reinforcement)

Each step is more important than the next one

If an audience member is not convinced enough to listen to you, they’ll never be ready to process and digest the information you present. I have said before that if you are successful in convincing them, your talk can become important enough.

This means that if you are not able to present information that is linked to their existing knowledge or structure it properly, many of them will still take the effort to ask questions, read more and follow up to clarify these links and get a structure of their own.

Every step is not necessary

It’s not that if you don’t convince people, no one is going to listen to you. There will be a section of the audience that is already convinced, for various reasons. In a multi-track event, they wouldn’t have turned up for your session, if they didn’t feel it was important.

At times, you don’t need to spend as much time on some parts of the learning or skip them altogether. It all depends on the topic, your judgement and experience.

Session profile or overview

As discussed above, the session structure will vary depending on multiple factors. Rather than straightaway preparing my session in the order of how it’ll be presented (Introduction, Body and then Conclusion), I usually prepare an overview or a profile of the session. It helps me get the big picture and the core ideas of my presentation. This way I can plan my actual session easily and even modify my presentation on the go, based on the audience’s reaction.

  1. What is the aim or purpose of my presentation? Or, what do I want the audience to do because of my presentation?
  2. What is my presentation about? Or, what is the central idea or theme of my presentation?
  3. What are the goals or objectives that’ll need to be achieved to satisfy the aim?
  4. What do I want my audience to do after my presentation? (Call to action)
  5. What will be the title of my presentation?

We’ve discussed the aim or purpose of a presentation in the last post. We’ve discussed objectives briefly earlier.

Central Idea

The central idea describe what the presentation is about, in a single sentence. Ideally, if someone asks an audience member what your presentation was about, this is what they should paraphrase.

It is slightly different from but related to the aim of the presentation. For example, if your aim is:

I want audience members to start using Theme Frameworks for their projects.

then, the central idea could be:

Theme Frameworks make theme development easy (because they come with built-in functionality, excellent code quality and excellent support).

While the aim states what you want your audience to do, the central idea says why they should do it.


We’ve had a brief discussion on setting objectives earlier. You may recall that objectives are basically well defined statements that describe

  • what the participant will be able to do at the end of your session,
  • under what conditions, and
  • what criteria or standards would be used to evaluate this.

Aim vs Objectives

Although the meaning in the general sense is very similar, these are two distinct words in formal settings. While the aim defines what is going to be done, the objectives tell us the how of it. In fact, to be specific, objectives are the exact things that need to be done so that we know that the aim is achieved.

Call to action

This is what you’d explicitly ask the audience to do at the end of the presentation, either right away or after going back. For the theme framework example above, the call to action could be

I want you to select any theme framework and create a child theme that has a different colour scheme from the parent theme.


Finally, the title is the PR person of your presentation. It is the first thing people will know and it is the only thing they’d need to remember before the presentation. Here’s an excellent resource that saves me from going into details: How to Write Good Speech Titles.

What’s Next

In the next post, we’ll create the actual session plan (from Introduction to Conclusion) based on the session profile.

Worksheets and an exercise

Here’s a worksheet that you can use to plan and structure your session. As an exercise, you could work out the session profile and objectives for a presentation on Theme Frameworks.

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Acing a technical talk: A session structure template

Without any ado, here’s the structure that I recommend:

Presentation Stage Notes Learning Stage


Grab Attention Attention, Motivation & Confidence Selection
State the Central Idea Recall & Relate to existing knowledge Linking


  1. Main Point
    1. Sub-Point/ Example
    2. Sub-Point/ Example
    3. Sub-Point/ Example
  2. Main Point
    1. Sub-Point/ Example
    2. Sub-Point/ Example
    3. Sub-Point/ Example
  3. Main Point
    1. Sub-Point/ Example
    2. Sub-Point/ Example
    3. Sub-Point/ Example
Structuring Content,
Setting Objectives,
Presenting Content,
Presenting Examples
  1. Main Point
    1. Sub-Point/ Example
    2. Sub-Point/ Example
    3. Sub-Point/ Example
  2. Main Point
    1. Sub-Point/ Example
    2. Sub-Point/ Example
    3. Sub-Point/ Example
Maximum 5, only if you are super sure! 🙂


Recap Main Points
Restate the Central Idea
Call to Action Practice, Testing, On-the-job training

Why do I recommend it? Because it serves the purpose of my presentations and I feel, of any presentation in general.

The purpose of your presentation

While defining the aim or purpose of their presentation, people often work with the question

Why am I presenting?

which is a very vague question that may or may not help you. For eg, the following could be some of the many possible answers.

  1. I want to demonstrate and promote my product or a great useful product.
  2. I want to teach people a skill.
  3. I want to teach people a concept.
  4. I want to share my experience of doing something.

That’s not the aim, but the intention. The question that’ll lead you to the aim should rather be

What do I want people in the audience to do because of my presentation?

This question applied to the earlier examples, gives us something more specific:

  1. I want them to try/ use my product.
  2. I want them to be able to complete a task in a better way with fewer problems.
  3. I want people to realise the the true nature of a concept in depth and clear misconceptions and misunderstandings.
  4. I want people to avoid my mistakes and adopt the practices that worked for me.

labyrinth-1015639_640In other words, you want the audience to do something in a particular way because they will learn it from you.

In the previous posts, I have discussed how people learn things. In the table above, I have associated the relevant stage of your presentation with the stage of learning involved. We will go into the details in a subsequent post along with a worksheet to help plan your session. At this stage, however, I’d like to leave you with a couple of questions:

  1. Why only 3 main points (maximum 5)? (Hint: chunking)
  2. What is the central idea of your presentation?
  3. What is a call to action?

Acing a technical talk: Reinforcing knowledge

While the contents of this post are outside the scope of the session proper, an understanding of these principles may go a long way in structuring the session. You could go a step further and include these in your structure in creative ways.

The building analogy

We have already looked at the principles by which a participant first selects and assimilates the knowledge that you have provided into their existing ideas. Previously, I compared this to constructing a building.

In the first post, we discussed selection and linking. The strategies of grabbing attention, motivation and confidence (selection) make the participant choose willingly to construct the building on their minds. Recalling other buildings that they have seen and relating the features of this new building to the other buildings prepares them better. It links the idea of the new building to whatever they already know. They are ready to build.


In the second post, we discussed how without a proper scaffolding or framework (organising), you can’t just place bricks on top of each other and create a strong and useful building. Once you have created the structure and placed your bricks, you are able to create a brand new building that makes complete sense with the existing landscape of their minds (assimilation).


There’s just a small problem. Building knowledge in our minds is a little different from building structures in the real world. If new knowledge is a building made of a concrete scaffold and strong and beautiful bricks, the mortar is just clay. It erodes quickly; the building cannot stand for long. Which is why, unlike the real world, you have to start adding your cement mixture, after the building’s ready.


Without reinforcing or strengthening the assimilation of new knowledge to existing, new knowledge is quickly lost. Many of the strategies are known to us since we use them to reinforce memories all the time.

Strengthening this assimilation in memory


It’s the most popular strategy. Practice makes a person perfect. However, there are two kinds of practice or rehearsal. One of them is when you just repeat a phone number over and over and is called passive rehearsal. It hasn’t found to be as effective as the other one.


The second type is meaningful rehearsal where often you rehearse after creating meaningful associations. For example, when you try and remember names. Simply repeating a name does nothing. However, by linking some attributes of the person to the name (WordPress developer, beard, bald, no spectacles, wears bright t-shirts) and repeating this information maybe just twice, we are able to remember the name better.

Every time you meet this bearded, bald, bright t-shirt wearing WordPress developer, you’d actually be rehearsing the memory and Joshua‘s name will be remembered better.


After learning something and reinforcing with practice, there has to be a way for the learner to check how well they are doing. Are they able to apply what they’ve learnt usefully? Do they have any problems in doing so? Why are they having these problems?


You gave your talk, your audience went home and practised what you preached and now they could get stuck. How much of the responsibility of feedback are you willing to take? Are you keeping a communication channel or a resource for them that they can use to get feedback and support? Is that possible for your topic?


A summary is just repeating the structure of content that was used to help organise the new knowledge. It helps to go back to the scaffold, refreshes links and reinforces the assimilation.


This is by far the most technical part and is often left to experts. However, I’ll only give an example. You are going to teach someone to build a widget with an example of recent posts. Once you have done that, what do you think is a better strategy?

Asking participants to build a widget of

  • most recent posts
  • most popular posts (using comments & social media shares)
  • related posts (using tags)
  • latest tweets
  • latest YouTube videos


If a participant is able to apply their newly learnt knowledge in new situations, it does mean that they have assimilated it well. It will also strengthen the new knowledge better by creating more and better associations.

On-the-job Training

The final stage is when the participant is able to successfully apply new knowledge at work, on a real life project. Once they start doing that, there’s no way anyone is forgetting anything.


Implications for your session

How much of the actual strategies of practise, feedback, summary, testing and on-the-job training can we include in the actual session? If not, are there ways we can accommodate them into our sessions, partially? If not, are there ways by which we could create the direction or a framework that could help your audience get the reinforcement?

What next?

Next, we start building a plan and structure for your talk utilising these principles.